London, May 12 (PTI) It is important to win the 'hearts and minds' of like-minded countries such as India to prevent countries like China and Russia from filling the multilateral vacuum and misusing digital technology to steal and sabotage, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warned on Wednesday.
In a keynote speech at the CyberUK Conference 2021 organised by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the Cabinet minister issued a stark warning of “all too real” attacks on democracy as he announced GBP 22 million in new funding to support cyber capacity building in vulnerable countries in Africa and the Indo-Pacific.
“We invited ministers to join the (G7) meeting from India, Australia, South Korea, South Africa and Brunei, the current ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) chair; because we wanted to broaden the group of like-minded countries cooperating on cyber,” Raab said.
“We have got to win hearts and minds across the world for our positive vision of cyberspace as a free space, open to all responsible users and there for the benefit of the whole world. And frankly, we’ve got to prevent China, Russia and others from filling the multilateral vacuum,” he said.
The minister made reference to a clash between authoritarian and democratic states playing out in cyberspace at the moment, with malicious cyber-actors the 'industrial-scale vandals of the 21st century'.
“You’ve got authoritarian regimes including North Korea, Iran, Russia and China using digital tech to sabotage and steal, or to control and censor. And perhaps we saw that most ruthlessly recently when the military junta shut down the internet in Myanmar,” he added.
The minister said the answer was to work with like-minded partners, to make sure the international order that governs cyber is fit for purpose. Towards this end, the UK’s new investment towards cyber capacity building will target countries in Africa, the Commonwealth and Indo-Pacific, transforming their resilience by helping build national emergency response teams and promoting future leadership by funding new Chevening scholarships.
“Our aim should be to create a cyberspace that is free, open, peaceful and secure, and which benefits all countries and all people. We want to see international law respected in cyberspace, just as we would anywhere else. And we need to show how the rules apply to these changes in technology, the changes in threats, and the systemic attempts to render the internet a lawless space,” Raab said.
He cautioned that it seems that almost nothing is off limits for cyber criminals because as schools and universities prepared to re-start face-to-face teaching post-lockdown in March this year, the government found that around 80 different schools, colleges or universities were hit by ransomware attacks, forcing some to delay the return to the classroom.
Elections were flagged as a “prime target”, with Russian actors attempting to interfere in the UK’s 2019 general election by “spreading lies” online.
It was also revealed that in the last year, the NCSC dealt with 723 major cyber security incidents, the highest figure since the NCSC was formed five years ago, and in total they stopped 700,000 online scams targeting the UK in 2020.
“These hostile state actors and criminal gangs want to undermine the very foundations of our democracy. And let’s be clear, when states like Russia have criminals or gangs operating from their territory they cannot hold up their hands and say not them but they have a responsibility to prosecute them, not shelter them. These cyber-attacks pose a real risk on a daily basis,” said Raab.
Speaking at the same government-backed conference on Tuesday, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke out against the paying of ransoms following cyber attacks.
'Government has a strong position against paying ransoms to criminals, including when targeted by ransomware. Paying a ransom in response to ransomware does not guarantee a successful outcome,” said Patel.
“It will not protect networks from future attacks, nor will it prevent the possibility of future data leaks. In fact, paying a ransom is likely to encourage criminals to continue to use this approach,” she said, encouraging companies to work with the NCSC and law enforcement on combating the problem.
The minister also announced that while the UK's Computer Misuse Act had proved to be an effective piece of legislation to tackle unauthorised access to computer systems, it is now time for a formal review to update it further. PTI AK SCY SCY